Google has increasingly been talking about the importance of creating a good user experience.
Unfortunately for many webmasters, understanding how Google evaluates what a good user experience looks like as well as knowing if it will have the desired effect, can put them off making such changes. In this blog post, I look back at some work we did with a client to improve their UX (and specifically, their site architecture) that had a big impact on their rankings.
At the beginning of 2017, I started working with a bullion ecommerce site. They were Europe-based but had struggled to gain traction in the more profitable UK market, which is where we came in. It quickly became apparent to us that the site was difficult to navigate around and didn’t always highlight important pages to users, so we performed a review of their site architecture and made the following recommendations:
- Reduce the number of category levels – A typical user journey might require users to land on the following pages to perform a purchase: Home – Main Category – 1st Level Subcategory – 2nd Level Subcategory – Product – Basket. In reality, the main categories were unnecessary and didn’t really rank for much meaning this level of the site could be removed entirely as it was pointless and just created more effort for the user.
- Make important, 2nd level subcategory pages more prominent – This was done by including links to these pages in the menu which allowed users to bypass another layer of the site if they knew what product they were looking for.
- Make 2nd level subcategory pages accessible on mobile – Previously, 2nd level subcategories were only accessible on a side-navigation that was only visible on the desktop version of the site.
- Stop filters from creating thousands of unnecessary subcategory pages – Rather than using parameters when applying filters to a category page, the site had individual category pages for each variation of the filters. As an example, the category page for Sovereign coins had 30 different versions of almost the same page depending on what filters were being applied. All of these pages were indexable creating various content issues and a lot of category pages to sift through.
- Base naming conventions of pages on terms users are searching for – As an example, most users search for bullion bars by weight rather than brand, but the client was categorising their bars by brand.
- Remove unnecessary subcategories – This included pages users were rarely landing on or that had very few products and helped reduce the bloat of content on the site and removed many low-quality pages combining them into broader and better quality category pages.
- Remove unimportant links from the main navigation – This placed greater focus on more important pages making them easier to find.
- Make informative content accessible from the main menu
- Remove unnecessary filters and filter options
It was a pretty hefty project and took several months to complete these tasks, but the results were substantial.
In the UK, visibility increased by 184% YoY while Germany saw an increase of 495% over the same period. Spain and Italy also began overtaking the performance of the UK having started 2017 with practically no visibility at all.
Organic traffic increases over this period were also substantial with an increase of 119% YoY which led to a 207% growth in organic revenue.
User metrics also changed in a positive way over the course of this year. We found that Pages/Session were down 24% from 4.87 down to 3.71 while average session duration was also down 21% from 3:44 to 2:57. On face value, this might be viewed negatively but when we think about what this project was trying to achieve (e.g. helping users find the product they want as quickly as possible and in as few steps as possible), we realise that this data demonstrates that this is exactly what was accomplished.
How do I optimise my site architecture for SEO?
Based on our learnings from this project (and others), as well as Google’s own guidelines, we’d recommend making the following considerations as you review your own site architecture:
- Ensure the user journey doesn’t require landing on unnecessary pages.
- Remove unnecessary levels in the site architecture.
- Ensure that category pages relate to terms users are searching for.
- Ensure that category pages have enough products to make them worthwhile landing on as Google views having little choice as a negative for the user so reduces rankings for such pages.
- Ensure that only filters and filter options are included that are helpful to avoid cluttering.
- Avoid content bloat.
- Ensure that pages accessible on desktop are also accessible on mobile.
- Remove links from the main nav that are unnecessary to make it easier for users to find more important content.
- Don’t make SEO your only consideration – For example, just because a category page doesn’t target keywords with much search volume, doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Sale pages are a good example of this, lots of users click on these pages once they land on the site but don’t search for such pages.
- Categories in the menu should be ordered by the amount of traffic they receive, and subcategories should be ordered alphabetically to make content discovery easier.
We regularly come across clients who need to change their site architecture and find that once the right changes have been made, that performance across all channels is improved.
So, if you haven’t already, why not give your site architecture a good spring clean and transform your site from average to awesome?!